A group of current and former inmates at Wisconsin’s youth prison have filed a federal lawsuit alleging as much as 20 percent of the population is held in solitary confinement and guards needlessly pepper spray prisoners.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Pennsylvania-based Juvenile Law Center filed the lawsuit Monday in Madison on behalf of four current and former inmates at the prison in Irma. The lawsuit alleges the inmates’ treatment violates the prisoners’ constitutional rights.
The lawsuit asks a judge to prohibit prison officials from using solitary confinement and pepper spray except in rare cases.
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Molly Collins of the ACLU of Wisconsin told reporters at a Milwaukee news conference Tuesday morning that the poor treatment of juveniles at Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls should stop.
“We hope this lawsuit will force the state of Wisconsin to treat young people in its custody with basic decency and place them in settings that will actually achieve the rehab, goals of the juvenile justice system,” Collins said.
The complaint says the alleged practices violate the children’s constitutional rights. The Wisconsin Department of Corrections is reviewing the lawsuit.
The FBI is currently investigating allegations of prisoner abuse, child neglect and sexual assault at the prison.
ACLU attorney Larry Dupuis told reporters during the news conference that his group had hoped the investigations would create change at the prison but inmates are still being abused.
A parent who’s joined the lawsuit said Tuesday she’s trying to help the juvenile offenders who have allegedly been mistreated at the two facilities.
Meranda Davis said her daughter has been mentally abused at Copper Lake, to the point of her daughter attempting suicide.
“There’s something really, really going on in that place for a 14-year-old, she was 14 at the time, to want to kill herself,” the mother said.
Davis said she wants to see better conditions at the juvenile corrections facilities.
Gov. Scott Walker’s office says private attorneys will be hired to defend the state because the Wisconsin Department of Justice has been looking into allegations of earlier child abuse and neglect at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include original reporting from WPR. It was last updated at 3:46 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 24.
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